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News from the Oklahoma National Guard

NEWS | June 23, 2022

Oklahoma National Guard Team Wins Colorful Cyber Shield 2022 Gaming Competition That Allows Cyber Warriors to Test Their Skills Against Their Peers

By Capt. Clarissa Estrada, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

If it wasn’t for the rows upon rows of computers and the random 7-foot man in a ghillie suit, you might have thought you ran into a wayward group of tourists on the way to a tropical paradise. The place was filled with Hawaiian shirts and flip flops, with one man strumming on his ukulele.
Nope – this was Netwars.

And it is how National Guard cyber “geeks” and their colleagues at Cyber Shield 2022 blew off steam and increased their technical skills at the same time.

The two-night computer hacking competition was brought to Cyber Shield by the world-renown SANS Institute on June 10-11. It was a Morale, Welfare and Recreation event that could only be seen at Cyber Shield, the Department of Defense’s premiere unclassified cyber defense exercise. The exercise is being held this year from June 5-17 at the Army National Guard’s Professional Education Center on Camp Joseph T. Robinson Maneuver Training Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Netwars is sort of a digital “capture the flag.” Contestants and teams, with user names like Goblin_Sharks, off_Constantly, Happy_Hooligans, Slackers, and The_Unsecures, answer information technology puzzles while searching for flags within the network.

“There is a list of things you need to find within the network, like Easter Eggs. You answer questions similar to puzzles or riddles to score points and find the flags,” said Washington Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Lance Shimamoto, one of the competitors.

He didn’t explain the colorful shirts. But after an intense week of training and looking forward to an even more intense “exercise” week, perhaps no explanation is needed: “Geeks” just want to have fun!

But Chief Warrant Officer 3 Philemon Chow, a cyber warfare technician with the Maryland Army National Guard’s 169th Cyber Protection Team, said contestants also learn from Netwars.

“The new players can learn a lot. The first level offers a lot of hints and guidance on how to solve the question.  Once you answer enough questions correctly, you move on to the next level. Each level offers less guidance to the user,” Chow said.

But by the end of the competition, only one team could emerge victorious. That team was from Oklahoma Army Guard Defensive Cyber Operations Element. So, the Sooners team took home the victory coin from this year’s competition. Ironically, not one of the team was wearing a Hawaiian shirt.  

Cyber Shield, the nation’s premiere unclassified cyber training exercise, involves more than 800 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, civilian experts, and other military services from throughout the nation along with interagency partners from all levels of government and cyber leaders ranging from high-tech corporations to local utilities.
The exercise is conducted at the unclassified level to allow greater participation. The exercise is a result of the National Guard’s commitment to defend critical infrastructure from the growing threat of cyber assaults. The mission of Cyber Shield is to develop, train and exercise cyber forces in the areas of computer network internal defensive measures and cyber incident response. These capabilities facilitate National Guard Cyber Teams’ abilities to conduct missions to coordinate, train and assist federal, state and industry network owners that are threatened by cyberattack.
Video by Airman 1st Class Erika Chapa
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